The Keystones of Baguio

The Keystones of Baguio
The Keystones of Baguio

Written by Isagani S. Liporada

Taft, Ide, Wright, Worcester, Moses, Legarda, Pardo de Tavera, Luzuriaga… names of persons whose faces nary a soul could even remember in a snap.

But who could ever deny them their place in history for sparking the building of the Baguio we now know and being 'urstoff' of Philippines' law and system of governance.

A hundred and ten years after the Second Philippine Commission was formed, February 22, 2010, they were immortalized through the Baguio peoples' greatest gift to their city - "The Keystones of Baguio".

The boulders comprising the Keystones of Baguio now grandly stand atop Session Road as a fitting reminder of the eight - faceless, for they should be remembered for what they've done not what they looked like; prosaic, for they were simply a collegial body not representing a particular skin color; of varying height, for nobody really knows the extent of their individual contributions; robust, like the foundations they initiated.

The Formative Years of Philippine Democracy

In December 1899, President William McKinley speaking before the United States Congress declared reconstruction of the Philippine Islands should progress "from the bottom up".

It was a time when the 'Pearl of the Orient', was in a state of upheaval following "cession" of the Philippines to the United States of America by Spain.

Following his statement, McKinley established the Second Philippine Commission on March 16, 1900, granting it legislative and limited executive powers to spark renaissance in the Philippine Islands.

It was headed by William Howard Taft, after whose name, the Commission was more popularly known. With Taft then were Commissioners Henry Clay Ide, Luke Edward Wright, Dean Conant Worcester, and Bernard Moses.

Realizing Filipinos should be part of the setting up of the country's foundation towards eventual self rule, former Malolos Republic Cabinet Member Benito Legarda, physician-linguist Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, and Joe De Luzuriaga joined the Commission later in September 1, 1901.

Upon the earth where rubbles of war thus laid, boulder by boulder of legislative measures was painstakingly stacked by the Taft Commission comprising laws after which Philippine democracy evolved.

The Commission issued a total 499 laws before a bicameral system of legislation was introduced en route its emancipation from America.

These include the establishment of a judicial system which framework exists 'til now; a legal code which replaced archaic Spanish edicts; a civil service system; and the very first local government code which gave birth to popular elections, among others.

Session Road and the Birth of the Summer Capital

Because of the sweltering summer heat in Manila, it staged its first session in Baguio - then a municipality of the Province of Benguet - from April 22 to June 11, 1904.

The historic activity is from where Session Road, the city's busiest artery, got its designation.

Of great significance then was the Commission's declaration of Baguio as the country's "Summer Capital," June 1, 1903. Since then, during Manila's hot summer months, the colonial officialdom moved the seat of government to Baguio.

Consequently, the pronouncement led to the construction of basic infrastructures, including further improvements on the Benguet Road, which was started earlier in August 20, 1901. The road, later named after the engineer who realized the project, Col. Lyman W. Kennon, was finished in 1905.

Keeping up with rapid developments in Baguio during early 1900's, William Cameron Forbes who was appointed to the Philippine Commission in 1904, personally arranged for Daniel H. Burnham, a celebrated architect, to prepare an urban design for Baguio.

The plan approved by Taft, who then assumed the position of Secretary of War, revolved around a park system & road network that "in the future, may reach but not exceed a population of 25,000."

Chartering the Inevitable

With the "Burnham Plan" in place, the Commission adopted Act No. 1963 on September 1, 1909. Penned by Justice George Malcolm, the Act transformed the once rural mountain territory into a chartered city.

After Baguio's Charter, the city grew steadily, enjoying amenities of a typical 20th century American city with Camp John Hay serving as the rest and recreation area for the US army.

Government cottages, accommodations for tourists, a hospital, a school and other de rigueur infrastructure works of a typical white man's city were built.

The City of Baguio, once vast grassland, is now a bastion of new age monuments that continue to alter the city's skyline.

Today, Taft, Ide, Wright, Worcester, Moses, Legarda, Pardo de Tavera, and Luzuriaga are names no longer.

They are "The Keystones of Baguio" - a monument at the zenith of that road where "reconstruction of the Philippines from the bottom up" all began.